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1943: Turning Point of WW2 in Europe (Documentary)

Apr 12, 2024
In 1942, after three years of war, German control in Europe reached its greatest extent: from the Arctic Circle to Africa and from the English Channel to the Volga. But all that changed in

1943

, a year sometimes called “das vergessene Kriegsjahr” or the forgotten year of the war. As the new year begins, the Red Army tightens its control over the surrounded German forces at Stalingrad, who surrender in February. This is the first time that an entire German field army has laid down its arms, and it will not be the last. Stalingrad is a major

turning

point

in the war, but

1943

has just begun and the rest of the year will see more dramatic setbacks for the Axis in the European theater.
1943 turning point of ww2 in europe documentary
In fact, the next major Allied coup against Germany will draw some direct comparisons to Stalingrad and Tunisia. By late 1942, Axis forces in North Africa were on the defensive. After Rommel's decisive defeat at the Battle of El Alamein in November, British General Bernard Montgomery's Eighth Army pursues the newly renamed German-Italian Panzer Army across the Libyan Desert. Shortly after, Anglo-American troops under General Dwight D. Eisenhower land in Morocco and Algeria as part of Operation Torch. The target of the Axis and Allied armies is Tunisia, home to the last major Axis ports: Bizerte and Tunisia. For Rommel, the shorter supply lines in Tunisia offer an opportunity to replenish his army and perhaps bring it closer to becoming an effective force.
1943 turning point of ww2 in europe documentary

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1943 turning point of ww2 in europe documentary...

But 2,500 kilometers of uninterrupted withdrawal have unsettled the German high command. In Berlin, the staff makes arrangements for his replacement and continually asks Rommel to grant much-needed sick leave. He refuses for the moment. Allies are also making plans. In January, Roosevelt and Churchill (Stalin rejects his invitation) meet in Casablanca to discuss political and military strategy. However, there are disagreements. Some Americans are pushing for an invasion of Western Europe as soon as possible, while the British are more cautious and want to attack on the supposedly softer Mediterranean front. The debates are bitter and American generals are divided because some fear that the United States is not yet strong enough to sustain a full invasion.
1943 turning point of ww2 in europe documentary
At the end of the conference, the Western Allies agree on their plan for 1943 and beyond: they would attack Sicily as soon as possible and delay the invasion of France until 1944; they would intensify and coordinate the bombing campaign against Germany; and would double the proportion of allied forces in the Pacific. The British and Americans are frustrated with the compromises, but Stalin is angry, as he wanted an invasion of France within months. Roosevelt, perhaps out of frustration, announces that the Allies will accept nothing less than the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan. This statement will become controversial, and it is still debated whether it strengthens Axis resistance or whether Roosevelt hopes to delay peace talks until the United States is in a stronger position.
1943 turning point of ww2 in europe documentary
In any case, before any of the Allied plans can be realized, there is an immediate need to end the Axis presence in North Africa. Luckily for Rommel, the pursuit of Montgomery is slow. By prioritizing fuel deliveries for the best German units, most panzer divisions are able to limp across the Tunisian border. Italian troops lacking vehicles are not so lucky and the British take many prisoners. On 23 January 1943, the British capture Tripoli, while to the west, the British 1st Army, including the American II Corps and the French XIX Corps, approach from the Tunisian-Algerian border. Meanwhile, the Italian navy and Luftwaffe send reinforcements to Tunisia, some via massive Messerschmidt 323 transport planes.
There they join German General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim's 5. Panzerarmee. Along with Rommel's panzer army, the Axis had 104,000 German and 74,000 Italian soldiers in or around Tunisia by the end of January 1943. However, both panzer armies are poorly equipped and Rommel's force has lost two-thirds of its tanks. and half-tracks and almost all their artillery. in his withdrawal. However, some 800 Luftwaffe aircraft can ensure local air superiority. Tunisia promises a different kind of North African combat than the open deserts of Libya. Here there are mountain ridges, narrow passes and vast marshes, making maneuvering and rapid progress difficult. Although cornered, Axis troops still posed a threat to the scattered Allies and prevented the rapid capture of the ports in late 1942.
Allied troops therefore established positions along the East Dorsale Mountains. Eisenhower requests permission to drive a wedge between von Arnim and Rommel, but his British colleagues think the plan is too ambitious and want to wait for Montgomery's arrival. British officers also have reservations about the inexperienced Americans. Many American officers had never seen combat, and the major maneuvers of 1941 showed deficiencies in senior leadership, tactics, and infantry training. Although retraining corrected some problems, Eisenhower himself notes that some of his officers are complacent. Rommel has already dismissed American troops as "Britain's Italians." The Axis wants to attack the Allies in the west before Montgomery's estimated arrival in the east in early March.
Von Arnim's forces have already had some success against American and French troops and he is confident they can deal a serious blow in southern Tunisia. Once Rommel arrives, the Germans adopt a two-part plan. Operation Frühlingswind will see Arnim's 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions attack vulnerable US positions around Sidi Bou Zid, a major supply base and headquarters of Arnim's 1st Armored Combat Command A. US Once von Arnim has pinned down US forces there, Rommel's Panzerarmee will launch Operation Morgenluft (Morning Air), a rapid attack from Gabès to Gafsa and through US positions around Kasserine. But at German headquarters things are tense.
Rommel and von Arnim do not like each other and their animosity grows as they work together, meaning that Commander General Albert Kesselring has to intervene to smooth things over. Dual operations also have no definitive end; instead, German commanders will quickly draw up expanded plans based on the results. On February 14, Von Arnim launches Frühlingswind, with two armored columns leaving Faïd. Supported by artillery and Stuka dive bombers, the panzers take US Green troops by surprise around Sidi Bou Zid. Isolated on two hilltops, American infantry cannot move or support each other. With communications unreliable, Colonel Thomas Drake of the 168th Infantry Regiment sends a desperate report written on toilet paper: “The enemy surrounds the 2nd Battalion (located on Mount Lessouda)… Bombed, dive-bombed and tank attacks...
The Germans have absolute superiority, on land. and air... I'm trying to maintain my CP position. Unless air and armor support arrives immediately, the infantry will lose greatly.” (Kelly 194) But American forces are scattered throughout the region, and their commander, Lieutenant General Lloyd Fredendall, is more than 100 kilometers away in Tébessa. On February 15, the Shermans and Stuarts of the 1st Armored Fighter Command attempt to counterattack the experienced German panzers, but the result is a massacre. Aerial artillery forces American tank commanders into their turrets, reducing their visibility and speed. Lieutenant Kurt Wolff remembers the results: “...barely the first shells had left our guns when the first three enemy tanks were on fire...there were at least 15 tanks on fire in front of us and the remaining enemy tanks had retired...laughing like a child, he went from company to company asking us and himself too: 'Did you ever see anything like that?'” (Kelly 206) The terrified retreat turns into a defeat, with the American troops fleeing of their positions.
Meanwhile, Rommel's troops launch Operation Morgenluft but find their main objective, Gafsa, already abandoned. But instead of ruthlessly pursuing the fleeing Americans, Axis units advance cautiously, giving American troops time to take up new positions in the Western Ridges. Rommel, who was still overseeing the final elements of the Libyan evacuation, quickly relocates to take command of the next stage. The success of Frühlingswind and Morgenluft revitalizes Rommel. He now develops an ambitious plan to encircle the Allied forces in western Tunisia. Rommel believes that if he gains command of all of von Arnim's armored vehicles, including the heavy Tiger tanks, he will be able to break through the Kasserine Pass and capture the US supply depot and headquarters at Tébessa.
Once resupplied with captured fuel, he could attack 225 kilometers to Bône, on the Algerian coast, surrounding the entire Allied force. He enthusiastically sends the plan to Kesselring and the Italian Supreme Command. But von Arnim is against the idea. Instead, he wants to retain his panzers for a conservative operation toward the British depot at Le Kef. Although it is unlikely that he will completely defeat the Allies in the west, this will cripple them for the foreseeable future, allowing for a stronger defense against Montgomery when he arrives. The result is a compromise. Rommel obtains von Arnim's panzers but must use them to attack Le Kef.
Rommel's Operation Sturmflut is scheduled for February 19. Two main columns would attack the mountain passes at Kasserine and Sbiba Gap, and Rommel would reinforce the attack that produced the greatest results. But Rommel was not happy with this compromise, as he later revealed in his memoirs: “At other times, our higher authorities were so wildly optimistic that they hardly knew what to demand of us next; Now, however, when a little boldness was really needed, they lacked the guts to make an honest decision.” (Kelly 229) Protecting Kasserine is a weak American force under Colonel Alexander Stark. His cryptic orders from Fredendall reference a stubborn and costly last stand of the American Civil War: "Go to Kasserine immediately and do a Stonewall Jackson." (Citino 94)- But Stark's men are mostly construction troops who have never seen action.
They scramble to build a hasty defensive line: they lay 3,000 mines, but they simply place many of them on the road. The Americans are aided by a French horse-drawn 75mm gun battery, but powerful Allied armored reserves remain in the rear to prevent a repeat of the Sidi Bou Zid disaster. At first Rommel tries to force the pass with a decisive blow across the valley. But French artillery and American machine guns drive the attackers back. German commanders order Panzergrenadiers to scale the heights on either side of the pass and clear out the American infantry. Both attacks begin with some success, but a lack of air and artillery support means the Germans soon withdraw.
Still, although the defense largely holds, Axis troops are advancing slowly. Fredendall even prepares to leave his headquarters in Tébessa. Meanwhile, the German attack on Sbiba is not going well. British and American anti-tank guns repel the attack and Rommel decides to focus on Kasserine, including the newly arrived Nebelwerfer rocket artillery. Late on February 20, American troops abandon their positions, leaving their armor without support. The French gunners, having fired all their ammunition, lock their guns and retreat. Now there is nothing to stop Rommel's panzers, who breach the pass and destroy a small British armored force sent to block them.
Now flushed with victory, Rommel divides his forces into three and attacks Tébessa, Thala and Sbiba simultaneously. But the Axis offensive is losing steam as fresh Allied troops, with armor and artillery, rush to the front. By dividing his forces, Rommel has weakened his offensive capabilities. Although the Germans briefly reach Thala, the material superiority of the Allies is

turning

the tide. On February 23, with clear skies bringing Allied air strikes, it is clear that Le Kef is unreachable and Rommel calls off the attack. The Battle of Kasserine Pass can be seen as a defeat for both the United States and Germany.
Although German troops forced passage, the overall German plan quickly failed. American commanders are disap

point

ed by their performance. Some accuse Fredendall of taking refuge in his bunker instead of giving clear and decisive orders. After Kasserine, he is replaced by General George Patton. The historianRobert Citino concludes: “Although ‘blame the general’ is the most simplistic form of military history, it is sometimes difficult to avoid. The evidence against it is overwhelming.” (Citino 97) Others have been more lenient, suggesting that Fredendall's failure is indicative of broader problems related to the rapid conversion of a small peacetime army into a larger war force, such as untested officers and tactics.
Furthermore, considering his lack of experience, the American troops performed relatively well against the German veterans, even according to Rommel: “Die Amerikaner hatten sich vorzüglich geschlagen.” - “The Americans performed excellently.” (Citino 97) Rommel has also been criticized, especially his decision to divide his forces following Kasserine and expect rapid advances in mountainous terrain. Some historians suggest that it is surprising, given his experience in the Alps during World War I, that Rommel did not clear the heights before his armored advance. But Rommel probably felt that he did not have the luxury of time, given that Montgomery's Eighth Army was approaching.
Rommel's relationship with von Arnim also affected the operation. Rommel was outraged to discover that von Arnim only sent half of the 10th Panzer Division and kept all the Tigers. Von Arnim, however, uses them in his failed offensive on February 26, losing 15 of his 19 Tigers. These are losses that the Germans cannot afford: in March, they only receive 29,000 tons of the 140,000 tons of supplies needed. Meanwhile, the United States alone contributes 400,000 tons. What remains of the Axis army in Africa will now be needed to confront Montgomery in the east, and Rommel quickly moves to the Mareth Line to confront his former opponent.
Rommel does not like the new position, which consists of a series of pre-war French forts. But his superiors demand that he stop the Eighth Army outside of Tunisia. Hitler promises that he will send new weapons and reinforcements, but for now Rommel only has 160 tanks, mostly Italian, compared to the Eighth Army's 800 tanks. Meanwhile, losses and fuel shortages mean that the Luftwaffe has all but disappeared from the Tunisian sky. Rommel knows that Montgomery is getting stronger, he orders a destructive attack to disrupt British preparations for March 6. However, his subordinates attack in the south after disagreeing with his recommendations to attack along the coast.
In any case, Montgomery's entrenched tanks and his anti-tank guns, including powerful 17-pounders, are waiting: “Those fools came right at us, didn't they? Some of us who were in the first combats in the desert expected a flank attack from Rommel, which was smart. Never happened. “They continued advancing across the plain.” (Watson 109) Montgomery put it more succinctly: “The marshal has behaved like a ball.” (Citino 100) Although only 94 Axis soldiers die, Rommel loses up to 56 tanks in what is his last action as commander in North Africa. On March 9, the Desert Fox finally agrees to take sick leave in Germany. Montgomery now launches his attack on March 16.
It will be a frontal charge supported by a broader flank, largely made up of New Zealand, Indian and French Senegalese soldiers. The frontal assault initially has some success, establishing a bridgehead across the Wadi Zigaou, but the Allied troops soon lose the position with heavy casualties. Frustrated, Montgomery prioritizes the flanking maneuver. Indian troops use their mountain experience to move through rugged terrain and attack from behind the Mareth Line, while the New Zealand Corps races towards the Axis rear, breaking through Axis defenses on 26 March. Rommel's replacement, General Giovanni Messe, retreats to the narrow position at Wadi Akarit, but Allied forces overrun his lines through combined artillery bombardments, frontal charges, and infiltration into the mountains.
The situation is now dire for the Axis troops. Hitler hopes that Tunisia and Bizerte can become meat grinders to deplete Allied forces and delay a European invasion, but morale and equipment are lacking. In April, von Arnim's Fifth Panzerarmee has 150,000 men and 150 tanks against 210,000 Allied troops and 1,200 tanks. Patton also recaptures American positions at Gafsa and Sened Station, eventually joining Eighth Army on April 7. Now the Eighth Army crashes into the new Axis positions at Enfidaville. Again the first assaults fail, but mountain troops, including Gurkhas, backed by concentrated and accurate artillery fire open the position. For every Axis artillery shell fired, the British fire up to 30.
The US II Corps, now redeployed to the north under the command of General Omar Bradley, also makes its way towards Bizerte with renewed confidence. Von Arnim sends Major Hans von Luck to Berlin to request an evacuation, but Hitler refuses to see him. When Hitler finally allows an evacuation in late April, it is of little use as the Axis lacks air and transportation cover. On May 7, 1943, the Allies captured Bizerte and Tunisia. On May 13, Axis forces surrender along with tens of thousands of their troops. Many are Italian colonial and non-combat troops, but many are also veteran German units such as the veteran 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions and 90th Light Divisions, who surrender to a man.
A contingent of Hermann Göring's elite division that fought in Tunisia is also captured, although some escape to Sicily. Almost immediately, Allied troops referred to the Tunisia campaign as Tunisgrad, in reference to the recent Soviet victory at Stalingrad. This is due not only to the harshness of the fighting, but also to the apparently decisive nature of the victory and the number of prisoners captured. Tunisia was not an easy victory for the Allies, and the disasters at Sidi Bou Zid and Kasserine Pass stained British perceptions of the Americans for some time. In total, the Allies suffered 70,000 casualties in Tunisia, and the United States lost 2,715 dead, 9,000 wounded, and 6,500 missing or captured in its first major theater of operations.
Of course, these figures do not come close to Soviet losses at Stalingrad, but they represent a large portion of the approximately 240,000 Allied casualties throughout the North African theater since 1941. Axis losses in Tunisia amount to 62,200, with 12,200 dead. , also much less. than Stalingrad. However, like Stalingrad, the capture of Tunisia trapped and destroyed a large Axis force of over 250,000 men. Army Group Africa may not have been as central to Axis war plans as the Sixth Army at Stalingrad, but it was still a significant Axis investment in manpower and resources. Its defeat also eliminated tens of thousands of experienced troops, as well as materiel Germany desperately needed elsewhere.
In fact, the Germans redirected transport planes destined for Stalingrad to Tunisia, meaning they were unable to adequately supply either location. The Luftwaffe struggled to recover from losses suffered in Tunisia and the Mediterranean theater, which amounted to 41% of the entire air force. The victory was also complete, as the Axis could never return to Africa or even plan to do so. Instead, from now on they would adopt a defensive posture concerned with the defense of their key territories. Meanwhile, the confidence of the Allies – especially the British – grew after the disasters of 1939-41. Despite the defeat at Kasserine, Allied forces were beginning to refine an operational doctrine that combined high levels of mechanization with sophisticated logistics and meticulous battle plans.
This allowed them to effectively transfer their advantage in industrial capacity to the battlefield. Meanwhile, the victory showed that the German way of waging war was faltering. German principles of Auftragstaktik, or mission command, which emphasized autonomy and flexibility at lower levels of command, were crumbling in the face of Allied material superiority and firepower. These methods worked well early in the war against inexperienced and unprepared enemies, but the Allied method left little room for errors that the Axis could exploit. As historian Paddy Griffith concluded: “German tactical analysts might growl resentfully that American tactics were ‘inflexible, laborious and based exclusively on material superiority’ (exactly like Montgomery's, in effect); but the fact is that the Germans could not win such a battle.” (Griffith 55) The remainder of the fateful year of 1943 would only make this trend even clearer.
But the allied method still has weaknesses. Much of the materiel must cross the Atlantic, and although Germany is withdrawing by land, it is still attacking at sea, something the Allies must stop if they hope to invade Europe any time soon. Beginning in 1939, German submarines threatened Allied shipping. Although German surface raiders play a role, Admiral Karl Dönitz hopes that his submarines can wage the so-called "tonnage war" against British merchant ships. This means sinking enough merchant ships to massively degrade British military capabilities or, better yet, force London to surrender. At first, the Germans have some success. Dönitz calls the summer of 1940 "the happy time", in which submarines easily attack mostly isolated merchant ships, sinking 471.
When the United States joins the war in 1942, this number increases to 1,160. Submarine crews call this "happy second time" or even "American shooting season." For British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Atlantic was the critical theater on which all others depended, and at the end of 1942 it was one of the few areas in which Germany remained resolutely on the offensive. In November 1942, submarines alone sank 768,000 gross tons of Allied shipping, the most of the entire war. As a result, Churchill asks for more help from his allies. He also establishes new guidelines for referring to the German submarine threat: “Enemy submarines will be called submarines.
The term "submarine" will be reserved for Allied submarine vessels. Submarines are those cowardly villains that sink our ships, while submarines are those brave and noble ships that sink theirs.” (Gannon) At the Allied conference in Casablanca in January 1943, American leaders agree to prioritize the Atlantic and delay the invasion of France and Germany until 1944. Although some commanders reluctantly agree, others understand that it is impossible to use the United Kingdom as a base for invasion with a persistent submarine threat. But even with promises of more American support, problems remain. Across the Allied effort there is significant demand and internal competition for scarce resources.
Meanwhile, Dönitz has more submarines than ever. In 1939, Dönitz had only 39 submarines, but by early 1943 he had around 300 and more were being built. Then, when Grand Admiral Erich Raeder resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy in January 1943, Hitler promoted Dönitz to the top naval position. Hitler asks Dönitz to keep up the pressure in the Atlantic, although the admiral is realistic about the challenge in a radio broadcast: "Even more difficult times await us from the harsh reality of submarine warfare." (Van der Vat 289) With one submariner in command of the entire German navy, the Allies also expect the U-boat threat to grow.
One area of ​​concern is Mid-Atlantic airspace, a favorite hunting ground for submarines known to Allied sailors as “Torpedo Junction.” In 1943, thanks in part to the massive expansion of the Royal Canadian Navy, Allied warships can provide end-to-end escort, but they are still very few and remain vulnerable without air support. Air bases in the United Kingdom, Iceland, the United States and Canada have been improving coverage, but there is still a gap of up to 1,000 kilometers off Cape Farewell. Allied commanders try to close it with escort carriers – including modernized civilian ships – or very long-range bombers such as the B-24 Liberator, but until January 1943, the British Coastal Command only had 6 VLR Liberators.
Most go on the bomber offensive against Germany or the Pacific. Meanwhile, in December 1941, the German navy's Beobachtungsdienst intelligence service cracked British naval cipher number 3. By intercepting British communications, they organized group attacks on convoys. Submarines locate around 70% of convoys thanks to code breaking. Allied resources are also depleted by the 1942 Operation Torch landings in North Africa and the Battle of Tunis in early 1943. The Royal Navy diverts 125 destroyers and other escort ships to Torch, while demand for fuel forAfrican operations mean North Atlantic convoys have less fuel. to outmaneuver submarines. The result is an increase in sinkings in early 1943. In March alone, German submarines and surface ships sank 120 Allied ships worldwide, totaling 704,000 tons, 484,000 of which sank in the Atlantic.
This rapid increase in sunken tonnage (up 74% from the previous month) is often seen as a major crisis. A British memorandum from March 1943 stated: “...there is not sufficient shipping here to enable us to carry out the offensives against the enemy, which have been decided. “Every sunken ship makes the situation worse… We can no longer rely on evading the submarine packages and will therefore have to fight the convoys through them.” (Haslop 210) An Allied report from December 1943 goes so far as to suggest that victory in the Atlantic (and thus the entire war) was threatened. However, more recent research has questioned the crisis idea.
The alleged crisis in March focuses mainly on two convoys, which suffer disproportionate losses: 22 of the 90 merchant ships sank. However, in general, only 31% of March convoys are attacked, a figure much lower than the 52% attacked in November 1942. In fact, in the first quarter of 1943, sinkings are lower than in any quarter of 1942. The Allies are also building more ships than they are losing, with a net gain of 2 million gross tons in March 1943. Perhaps most significantly, there is nothing in German sources that describes March as a time of imminent victory. In fact, after two months, the submarines withdraw from the Atlantic defeated.
Just as the March convoy battles are in full swing, allies meet at the Atlantic Convoy Conference to pool better resources and standardize procedures. The top priority is to close the air gap in the mid-Atlantic and take the fight to the submarines. The Commander-in-Chief of the Western Approaches is optimistic: “I am really hopeful now that we can move from the defensive to another better role: killing them.” (Redford 74) Early 1943 also sees several tactical, technological, and military developments materialize at around the same time. Ultraintelligence, from the deciphered German Enigma, is the best-known tool available to the Allies, but it was by no means the only one, nor even the most important.
Ultra can provide a general location of most submarines, which are tracked by men and women in the London Submarine Tracking Room. Convoys are diverted to go around them: an effective tactic. But ultra-intelligence is slow, and it sometimes takes up to 72 hours to decipher German communications. There are also periodic blackouts as the Germans modify their environments, including most of 1942. And as the number of submarines at sea increases, the likelihood of evading them decreases. Ultra is vital as a broader strategic tool, but it cannot identify submarines preparing to attack. That's where another technology comes into play. By early 1943, more Allied escorts are equipped with better sonar and radar equipment.
Underwater ASDIC sonar can detect submerged submarines, measure range and heading. This not only reveals approaching submarines, but also allows for more precise use of anti-submarine weapons, such as the Hedgehog and depth charges. Meanwhile, ships and planes equipped with the new 10-centimeter radar can detect submarines on the surface. None of these tools are perfect, but when combined with others, they create a nearly impenetrable network of defenses: “The first indication of a submarine attack would be the ASDIC people detecting a contact... you could hear these pings ...and the difference between ping and pong is how far away the submarine is.
When they think they are right above the submarine, the order is "Fire." That means that the depth charges come out... A colossal volume of water was coming to the surface... it was almost like lightning going through the water. During the day it is a fantastic thing to see.” (Bailey 67/68) German submariner Anton Staller aboard U-188 is on the receiving end of a depth charge attack in March 1943: “The alarm bells rang loudly... “Destroyer on the starboard bow ...Range of about 5,000 meters! "... A quick glance at the pressure gauge showed me that we were 100 meters away, at the same instant during the first time I heard ahead of us the roar of the depth charge explosion.
Now I discovered how frighteningly loud they sounded underwater. Even though I was afraid, I focused on my hydrophone wondering if I would ever hear anything again in my life…” (Willman 49) Another important Allied development is direction finding/high frequency, known as HF/DF or “Huff Duff ”. This can detect radio communications from German submarines at a distance of up to 25 kilometers, close enough to pursue and attack. It greatly exceeds the range of surface radar and helps escorts be more proactive. The technology has been around since 1942, but in 1943 it is much more available, with at least 2 HF/DF equipped ships per convoy.
This entails more powerful anti-submarine weapons and better organization. Previously it was considered that 6 escorts were sufficient to protect 24 merchant ships, but civilian experts led by Professor P. M. S. Blackett conclude that eight escorts can protect 48 merchant ships with equal effectiveness. This combines smaller convoys into larger ones and frees up escorts that can become mobile support groups that assist specific convoys under attack. Convoys and their escorts also adopt new tactics based on in-depth analysis of previous convoys. Since February 1942, Britain's Western Approaches Tactical Unit has been conducting war games based on recent attacks to estimate and predict U-boat group tactics.
Much of this analysis is carried out by staff of the Women's Royal Naval Service, better known as Wrens, who work as plotters, mathematicians and participants in war games. The result is new evasion, search and convoy patterns that are taught to officers in special training courses. By 1945, 5,000 Royal Navy officers had received Tactical Unit training. And finally, there are more very long-range bombers and escort carriers. In May, Coastal Command has 49 VLR bombers, up from 17 in February. Although dwarfed by the hundreds of bombers attacking German industry, this number is sufficient to close the air gap. Aircraft such as the B-24 Liberators, Whitley bombers, and Sunderland and Catalina seaplanes become vital submarine killers and quickly account for about half of submarine losses.
The combination of new tools and tactics is devastating for the submarine fleet. In April, the battle is balanced, as the Allies lose 39 merchant ships but sink 15 submarines. May 1943 is the decisive month, especially the trip of convoy SC-130. The convoy, heading to Liverpool from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has 37 merchant vessels and 8 escorts, several of them equipped with high-frequency direction finding and a new 10cm radar. German naval intelligence identifies the convoy and gathers up to 25 submarines in three wolf packs to attack after attack. Donau 1 and 2 are approaching from the southeast, while Wolfpack Iller is already in the area. The plan is to attack the convoy in the airspace, but British Ultra intelligence is aware of this.
However, a system failure means that the information is not transmitted to the escort commander. Still, when the attack begins on May 18, the escorts proactively search for the submarines and thwart their attacks, while the convoy also makes evasive turns. Soon the battle moves within range of approaching Allied aircraft that pursue the submarines and force them to submerge. On May 21, the submarine command abandons the attack. The Allies sink three submarines and damage another without loss. On board one of the sunken submarines, U-954, is Admiral Dönitz's youngest son, Paul, who dies with the rest of his crew. The SC-130 battle is the pinnacle of a terrible month for the Kriegsmarine, in which it loses a total of 41 submarines (almost 25% of the operational ones).
Kapitänleutnant Peter-Erich Cremer of the U-Boat General Staff Headquarters later recalled: “This May situation was quite out of control: as I soon found out, the number of boats that did not return from patrol reached... .more than one per day. , and there was talk of “Black May”.” (Gannon) On May 24, Dönitz orders his submarines to withdraw from the Atlantic until better equipment and countermeasures are available. So why did things go so wrong and so quickly for the submarines? Allied developments are a factor, but there were also German weaknesses. First, the Germans had little intelligence on Allied capabilities, especially high-frequency direction finding, radar, and Enigma decoding.
As a result, submariners did not know how to avoid or compensate for them. Second, Dönitz's top-down approach required constant radio reporting, especially before an attack. This gave British Ultra and HF/DF detection a better chance of locating them. During the SC-130 battle, there were 104 HF/DF reports, allowing the Allies to locate the submarines. Third, the Kriegsmarine lacked reliable air cover. Dönitz demanded more from Hermann Göring's Luftwaffe, but Göring resisted diverting resources from his own interests. The increase in the number of submarines also did not mean a proportional increase in sinkings, although the large number of active submarines still worried the Allies: “By April 1943, the average number of deaths per submarine at sea had sunk to 2,000 tons. . .
This might be interesting as a kind of sporting result, but the number of operational submarines had increased so much that it was of little importance in solving the problem. When Daniel Boone, who hunted fifty bears a year, was replaced by fifty hunters averaging one each, the bears saw no occasion to celebrate the decline of human marksmanship. (Van der Vat 316) But individual submarine performance and crew experience were rapidly declining. In 1940, submarine commanders had an average of two years of experience. In 1943 this was only 8 months. Most of the submarine captains killed in May 1943 had only one or two patrols to their name.
In 1940, 2% of submarine captains were responsible for 30% of sinkings. All of these so-called “aces” had entered the Kriegsmarine before 1935, but by 1943, the veterans of the first war were gone. Approximately 850 submarines (about 75% of the total built and manned during the war) would never harm an Allied merchant ship. In November 1940, the average tonnage sunk per submarine per day was 430 tons. In January 1943, there were 65. From 1939 to early 1943, the Atlantic is the only theater in which Germany successfully maintained the offensive. But now, even there, they are in retreat. However, Dönitz's retirement is not intended to be permanent. He accelerates new submarine developments and returns to smaller group tactics, but the submarine wolf packs never return in any significant way.
Instead, the Atlantic becomes the logistical highway for the Allied invasion of Europe. But, as the Allied leaders had decided in Casablanca, northern Europe would have to wait. The next push would be on the “vulnerable side of Europe”, although it will be more difficult than expected. In early 1943, Anglo-American troops decisively defeat Italian-German forces in Tunisia and take 250,000 prisoners. In spring, and after much debate, the Combined Chiefs of Staff confirm Sicily as the next step towards the invasion of Italy and the so-called “weak point of Europe.” They hope that taking Sicily will provide freedom of movement for Allied forces across the Mediterranean and allow bomber fleets to reach further into occupied Europe.
He can also appease Stalin by opening an additional front in Europe just as German forces launch their summer offensive on Kursk. The invasion of Sicily could even force Italy to withdraw from the war, although this is more of a hope than an expectation. Allied intelligence manages to cast doubt among the Axis about where the invasion will take place: during Operation Mincemeat, Allied agents plant false invasion plans for Greece on the corpse of a supposed Royal Marines officer, who is then dumped off the Spanish coast. Thanks to false information, the Germans move several divisions to Greece. Allied airstrikes also target Sardinia to further muddy the waters on the actual target of the invasion.
British Field Marshal Harold Alexander oversees the invasion, dubbed Operation Husky, using the created 15th Army Groupspecifically, which included the British Eighth Army and the American Seventh Army. The initial invasion forces consist of around 160,000 men, 600 tanks and 1,800 guns. They are supported by around 4,000 allied Mediterranean Air Command aircraft operating from North Africa and Malta. The objective of the Allied airmen is to gain air superiority, intercept the island and provide close air support. This force will face General Alfredo Guzzoni's Italian Sixth Army. It has 10 divisions, although six of them are mostly static coastal defense divisions. In total, it has around 200,000 combat troops and 260 tanks and armored vehicles.
They are supported by up to 30,000 German soldiers and personnel from the 15th Panzergrenadier Division and the Hermann Göring Panzer Division. Considered elite, these German divisions are not well equipped and have replacement soldiers after costly battles on the Eastern Front. But they can still field around 100 Panzer III and IV and 17 Tiger tanks. In the air, the Axis has up to 1,600 aircraft available from multiple bases in Sicily, Sardinia and Italy. But the Italians fight with poor equipment. The Livorno and Napoli Divisions are arguably the best in the Italian army, but are largely equipped with obsolete early-war tanks or captured French vehicles.
The available Axis vehicles are grouped into mobile units, the most powerful of which is the Battlegroup Schmalz. Your mission will be to counteract the invading forces near Syracuse, Augusta and Catania. Officially, German troops are under Italian command, but in practice, German commanders are largely independent. The two Allied ground commanders, Bernard Montgomery and George Patton, have been highly critical of the invasion plan during its conception. They request to use their veteran troops from North Africa, but Alexander encourages them to use new troops so they can gain experience. Enemy airpower is also a major concern for the landing force, so Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder suggests capturing and utilizing the well-constructed enemy airfields in southeastern Sicily.
This will allow combat units to take off directly from Sicily instead of Malta. Patton and Montgomery also request more close air support during landing, but Tedder maintains that gaining air superiority by bombing enemy airfields is a better use of Allied air power. Since early June, Allied planners have been preparing for the invasion. On June 11, the Allied navy and air force bomb the nearby fortress islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa into submission. Then, on 2 July (D-Day minus 7), Sicily and targets in southern Italy come under intense air and naval bombardment to disrupt and destroy supply lines, airfields, and defenses.
As a result, the Axis relocates the vast majority of its aircraft to mainland Italy, leaving only about 125 in Sicily. By then, the Mediterranean Air Command has achieved air superiority over the region, although the German Luftflotte 2 still has reserves of bombers and fighters available to potentially disrupt the Sicily landing. Meanwhile, British and American paratroopers prepare for their drops. British and American planners developed Husky's airborne component at short notice, and some commanders are concerned about the planned launch on the night of July 9. The commander of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgway, is concerned about friendly fire and a lack of night support. flying experience among American pilots.
In total, 5,300 airborne troops will land in Sicily. American troops will primarily jump from C-47s, while British paratroopers will arrive in gliders. But there is a lack of trained glider pilots, and American C-47 pilots have little experience in towing gliders. Once on the ground, the paratroopers will secure important crossings and bridges to slow or stop Axis counterattacks against the landing beaches. The 82nd Airborne Brigade will seize high ground around the Piano Lupo junction, while the British 1st Airborne Brigade will capture the important Ponte Grande bridge near Syracuse. When the first Allied planes head for Sicily, things quickly go wrong.
Planes towing gliders quickly get out of formation and lose course. Things get even worse when they come under anti-aircraft fire. Tug pilots dive and weave, and some prematurely release their gliders. Of the 144 gliders sent, only 54 land in Sicily and only 6 on the target. As many as 69 may have crashed into the sea, probably drowning about 300 paratroopers. This means that only about 100 men are immediately available to attack their targets. The United States lowers rates a little better. The pilots are once again lost in the darkness, while strong winds hit the landing zones. Most paratroopers land in small groups and fewer than 200 are immediately available to capture the Piano Lupo crossing.
In many cases, soldiers simply land and head toward the noise of battle. But despite the low numbers, Anglo-American troops attack many of their first objectives. A single-glider team captures the Ponte Grande Bridge and American paratroopers fight the defenders at Piano Lupo. American paratrooper Bob Fielder remembers approaching nearby Biazza Ridge: “Suddenly there was a loud, unmistakable burst from a rapid-fire German machine gun... Having never heard the sound of 1,200 rounds per minute, I wondered what hell is that. ?” (Camp 31) At Ponte Grande, Italian troops with mortars and armored vehicles attack the British paratroopers, reducing their number to 70. The paratroopers now await relief from maritime forces.
Despite the high number of casualties, there is a benefit to miscasts. Widely dispersed landings make the invasion seem larger than it is, and Axis forces are busy dealing with guerrilla-style attacks. Although Guzzoni announces an invasion, the Axis command makes no serious effort to counter it on the beaches. Coinciding with the night air drops, coastal commando raids are carried out by No. 3 Commando and SAS teams. Their job was to clear canyons and coastal obstacles. Around 3 a.m. on July 10, the first maritime units disembark. On the Pachino Peninsula, the Royal Marines, the 1st Canadian Division and the 51st Highland Division land in the dark and find most of the Italian positions abandoned.
In many cases, coastal defenders have simply fled their posts. The British 50th and 5th Divisions land south of Syracuse with equally light resistance. By 5 a.m., the British and Canadians have secured the beaches and heavier landing craft are delivering tanks and trucks. Allied troops seize Pachino airfield, which they then prepare for Allied aircraft. The British 50th Division encounters British paratroopers who have just retreated from Ponte Grande and together they quickly retake the bridge. American landings are also proceeding largely as planned, despite rough seas. Major General Lucian Truscott's 3rd Division disembarks first and advances towards Licata to cover the left flank of the landing beaches.
As they advance, they knock out coastal defenses and railway guns to clear the way for other divisions. In the east, the 45th Division captures Comiso airfield and secures the right flank of the landing beaches. The 1st Infantry Division lands in Gela, including a contingent of French Moroccan troops, and although resistance is tougher, they take the city at 8 in the morning. Now come the first serious Axis counterattacks, when Guzzoni orders the Livorno and Hermann Göring Divisions against the American beaches. However, bombing and paratrooper activity have cut off communications, so these first counterattacks are poorly coordinated. To the east, Italian blackshirt militia attack the Canadians, who easily drive them back.
British troops are now approaching Syracuse, an important port and key to the continued naval supply of British landing forces. Guzzoni hopes that his formidable defenses will protect him, however, the Allied troops enter in the afternoon and receive a supposedly "riotous" welcome from the locals. Italian units counterattack towards the city, even with captured French R-35 tanks. But by now, British troops have prepared anti-tank weapons and other defenses. Italian tank commander Adamo Profico remembers the attack: “We left, my tank in the lead… After a few hundred meters, my driver turned to me and shouted “mines!” The tracks of our tank had already passed over the first mines, which opportunely exploded...
The second tank arrived at full speed, and as it rounded the curve a cannon hit its track; This disabled its direction and it deviated, rolling down the escarpment. Close on its heels came the third tank, also at full speed. As soon as he turned the corner, his forehead was hit.” (Amphora 167) At the end of D-Day, Allied commanders probably feel that things are going well. Its troops are grounded, beachheads are expanding, several captured airfields are already in use by Allied fighters, and Syracuse has fallen. But there are growing problems. Of the 5,300 airborne soldiers deployed, only 2,000 are fit to serve the next day.
Army commanders on the ground also complain about a lack of air cover. With Allied aircraft busy with fighter and fleet escort missions, no close air support is available on D-Day and D+1. This lack of continuous air cover allows a German Luftwaffe attack on the Gela transport area to breach and sink the ammunition ship SS Robert Rowan. Axis forces are also recovering from the initial shock. Now that they have identified the landing beaches and allied forces, Guzzoni orders more organized counterattacks. Battlegroup Schmalz blocks the Allied advance towards Augusta, while the Livorno and Hermann Göring Divisions make a stronger move against the Gela beachhead.
On July 11, three Italian-German columns try to penetrate Gela. In the west and center, the Americans repel the Livorno Division with heavy losses, however, the panzers of the Hermann Göring Division make better progress against the light anti-tank weapons of the American protection forces. The German tanks break the line and head towards Gela and the beaches. With Allied tactical support aircraft occupied elsewhere, the 1st Division brings anti-tank and armored guns ashore. Eventually, a handful of vulnerable catapult-launched naval observation planes are able to direct naval fire and stop the German attack. The Axis commanders realize that the offshore armada would destroy any further attempts to reach the coast, so their forces withdraw and take up blocking positions around Caltagirone.
But despite the failure of the Italian-German counterattack, they slow the progress of the American 1st and 45th divisions. The Luftwaffe is less successful and can only offer sporadic resistance from the remaining Sicilian airfields. Johannes Steinhoff of Jagdgeschwader 77 later recounts this desperation in his memoirs: “With what we could gather from the remains of the group, we would fly along the northern coast over the crater of Etna towards the Strait of Messina, where we would launch into the Flying Strengths in a series of uncoordinated attacks. Our numbers were so few that we would do little damage, and even that little depended on our reaching the bombers.” To reinforce US troops, more parachute drops are planned for the end of July 11, but the drop is another disaster.
Recent German bomber attacks have Allied anti-aircraft units on high alert. When the navy and army gunners see the friendly C-47s, they mistake them for Axis ships and open fire on them. 23 of the 144 transport planes are lost to friendly fire, with an estimated 90 crew and 229 paratrooper casualties. A report from the 82nd Airborne Division attributed the incident to a lack of communication and preparation among ground forces. Meanwhile, fleet commander Admiral Andrew Cunningham blamed pilots for flying outside agreed air corridors. As the American advance stalls, the British Eighth Army makes better progress along the coast. The British take Augusta and capture it on July 12, but resistance from entrenched enemy units is stiffening.
Montgomery now develops a plan to open new routes of advance for British troops. As he continues to advance towards Catania alongalong the coast, he orders XXX Corps to surround Mount Etna from the west, with the goal of cutting the island in two. However, this requires British troops to seize American objectives around Caltagirone and give them exclusive use of Highway 124. Patton is outraged that his force is now relegated to supporting the British maneuver. So in response, Alexander allows the American 3rd Division to advance towards Agrigento. As Montgomery takes more and more control of the offensive, German commanders also take control of the defense.
General der Panzertruppe Hans-Valentin Hube of the XIV Corps assumes de facto command of the island, while incoming German formations prepare to reinforce him. The elite 1. Fallschirmjäger Division is on the way, as is the newly reformed 29th Panzergrenadier Division. BLOCK 5: PRIMOSOLE BRIDGE On July 13, Montgomery begins his great advance towards Catania. First, night attacks by airborne and sea commandos will capture two bridges, the Ponte dei Malati and the Ponte dei Primosole. The 50th Division will then break through the axis defenses about 30 kilometers to the south, join the commandos, and attack Catania. Once again, air drops go wrong.
Both friendly and enemy anti-aircraft fire forces nearly 30 percent of the gliders to return to base, and only 200 men and 3 anti-tank guns fall near their target. To make matters worse, they have fallen directly on top of the newcomer 1. Fallschirmjäger-Division. The British capture the Primosole Bridge, but are immediately attacked by the Germans. The British use anti-tank weapons and captured mines to repel the attacks, but casualties are mounting and ammunition is running out. Finally, they decide to move to a hill south of the bridge and cover it from there until the 50th Division arrives. However, the 50th Division was expected to fight Italian units, not hardened German paratroopers, and its progress is slow.
The fighting is especially tough in dense vineyards and orange groves. A soldier from the 5th East Yorkshire Regiment remembers: “you couldn't see more than 20 yards... Some troops were advancing along a small wall. While we debated who they might be, the question was resolved by the rapid noise of a Spandau not far away. (Clay, 186) On July 14, the 50th Division reaches the bridge, but finds the northern bank under solid German control. British troops crossed on July 15, but German machine guns and artillery soon pinned them down. Only a small allied bridgehead is formed. On July 17, after heavy fighting around the bridgehead, the British make another attempt towards Catania under heavy bombardment.
Sergeant Georg Schmitz of the 1. Fallschirmjäger Division is on the receiving end: “We survived the one and a half hour bombardment well protected by the tank trench. We had orders not to open fire until Oberstleutnant Walther... gave the order... Thus, without a single shot being fired on our side, the attacking enemy entered unhindered within the range of fire of our infantry weapons. But then he encountered our furious defensive fire. The attacker suffered heavy losses and the attack was repulsed.” (Klein 29) The British attack again on July 18, but are unable to advance towards Catania or the nearby airfield.
The next day, Montgomery abandons the plan and focuses on his planned tour around Mount Etna. But what was conceived as rapid progress is also hard work. On July 17, the Canadians advance along Highway 124, but are stopped by stubborn resistance before reaching Enna. Axis forces have already changed their positions to counter the movement. Hube decides to abandon western Sicily and retreat to a series of defensive lines around Etna. His plan now is to defend Sicily for as long as possible before withdrawing forces across the Strait of Messina towards Italy. However, the withdrawal is not a withdrawal. The German and Italian rearguard units continue to dispute city after city.
Demolitions and booby traps further slow the Allied advance. With Montgomery stalled, Patton senses an opportunity. He demands that U.S. forces be given a more meaningful target, arguing that there is a political need for the American public to see its troops in action. Alexander concedes and allows Patton to capture Palermo, a major port and the largest city on the island. American forces, especially the 2nd Armored Division, are now advancing against isolated pockets of mostly Italian troops, who often surrender after token resistance. Colonel James Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division remembers: “It was like nothing he had encountered during the war.
Suddenly a machine gun or anti-tank gun would open up and then the white flags would appear. It had been shot out of “honour”, but was just as likely to cause casualties as a shot fired in anger.” (Ford) American troops have another advantage in their advance through Sicily. A large number of US troops are Italian-Americans, some of Sicilian descent. They occasionally receive a warm reception from locals and are able to use their connections to obtain important information. US intelligence also uses criminal connections between New York mafia families with ties to Sicily. The local Sicilian mafia opposed to Mussolini helps gather intelligence and guide Allied troops through mountain passes.
Meanwhile, German troops report a hostile attitude towards their continued presence. German paratrooper Joseph Klein remembers the response to his unit's demolition work: "At Trecastagni, some emerged as spokesmen, waving old hunting rifles and assuming a menacing stance... The commotion did not end until our platoon sergeant had a machine gun group with an MG 42 installed in the market square…” (Klein 29) On at least one occasion, tensions lead to a murder. The Hermann Göring division shoots 16 Italians in Castiglione di Sicilia, probably in retaliation. for alleged robberies. On July 22, the Americans took Palermo, and the Allies practically cut the island in two at Termini Imerese.
American troops take 50,000 Italian prisoners with only 272 casualties. Patton now directs his troops along the north. Sicily to participate in the attack towards Messina. In fact, for him it has now become a race as to whether the Americans or the British will get there first. Meanwhile, in Rome, the war takes an unexpected and dramatic turn. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini is expelled from the Fascist Grand Council and arrested. His time as Il Duce has ended. King Victor Emmanuel assumes full constitutional powers. Mussolini had faced a growing conspiracy within his own staff, and the invasion of Sicily, along with Allied bombing of mainland Italy, acted as the final nail in the coffin.
But with Hitler watching closely, Italy vows to continue the war... for now. Mussolini's dismissal also puts an end to any claim to Italian command in Sicily. General Hube is now overseeing the entire withdrawal and evacuation. His troops continue fighting rearguard actions towards the Etna Line based on the formidable Centuripe position. Meanwhile, American troops advance toward Troina, another prepared defensive point. Carefully placed anti-tank guns, machine guns and German tanks take their toll. In many cases, small groups of Axis troops delay entire Allied divisions on the narrow mountain roads. Progress is also hampered by a lack of close coordination of air support by the Allies.
The process of requesting airstrikes is slow and complicated, and in any case, fragile radio equipment breaks down or cannot traverse the mountainous terrain. Confusing borders between American and British units compound the problem. As the British XXX Corps assaults Centuripe, fighter-bombers from the US XII Air Support Command mistakenly attack them. The commander of XXX Corps, General Oliver Leese, calls General Omar Bradley to complain: “What have we done to make your guys want to bomb us? …right above my headquarters! “They have really devastated the city.” (Ford) Exhausted and inexperienced allied units are now near breaking point. Major Derek de Stacpoole, of the 7th Royal Marines – an all-green formation – recalls an attack on Dittaino: “My God!
When I think about the things that went wrong: the lack of preparation and the rush of this whole damn amateur mess!... Poor old 7º R.M. Never have so many been screwed by so few.” (Ford) Only the release of experienced units from North Africa breaks the deadlock. Aided by the arrival of the British 78th Battle Ax Division, the British and Canadians capture Centuripe and its commanding heights on 1 August. On August 6, the American 1st Division finally captures Troina, but only after Axis counterattacks no less than 24 times. With these two positions lost, Hube knows the battle is over. He accelerates preparations for evacuation but continues his punishing rearguard actions.
The British 3rd Division advancing along the coast is especially held up at Monte Fratello. To assist him, Patton orders amphibious landings behind enemy lines on August 8, 11, and 16. Although they are risky, these so-called “career endings” facilitate progress. The British also made their own landing on 16 August to cut off the retreating elements of the Hermann Göring Division, but were unable to trap them. Both Allied forces now converge on Messina, and during the night of August 16, the vanguard of the American 3rd Division enters the outskirts. The well-organized evacuation of Hube comes to an end. The narrow strait, coastal guns, and large anti-aircraft forces mean that the evacuation of the Allied forces is mostly uninterrupted, and on August 17, Hube's commando is one of the last units to leave Sicily.
Of the 460,000 Allied soldiers in Sicily, around 5,000 are killed and up to 16,000 wounded in Operation Husky. Another 3,500 are missing. Of the dead, 1,400 are paratroopers. German losses amount to 4,500 dead, 13,500 wounded and around 10,000 missing or captured. Italian losses are especially high. 4,650 Italian soldiers are killed, 5,000 wounded, and up to 152,000 disappear or are captured. The loss of Sicily also decimates Axis air units. In July 1943 alone, 711 German aircraft were lost in the Mediterranean theater, and the Italian Regia Aeronautica is in the process of disbanding after Husky, a high cost for the limited damage they were able to inflict. But despite these results, there are allied complaints about the first major joint operation.
There was poor coordination, especially between different branches, as well as animosity and lack of communication between commanders. Although tactical air superiority improved as the invasion progressed, army commanders consistently claimed that they rarely saw friendly air cover. Air commanders responded that they were attacking targets further back, a more important contribution. Better communication about goals and methods may have eased these tensions. Alexander is also accused of giving too much control to Montgomery and underestimating the potential of American troops, while Patton is also criticized by both his superiors and his subordinates. General Omar Bradley, who served under Patton, accuses him of recklessness with the lives of his men, especially in his race to beat Montgomery to Messina, a race of which some historians suggest Montgomery was not even aware. .
News emerges of two incidents in which Patton slapped soldiers and at Biscari, on July 14, American troops massacred 73 Axis prisoners. The perpetrators claim that Patton ordered that no prisoners be taken, something Patton denied. The Allies also missed opportunities, as Hube's gradual withdrawal preserved his fighting strength. In the first 17 days of August, the Axis evacuated 100,000 soldiers, 10,000 vehicles, 200 artillery guns and 47 tanks to Italy, where they would continue the fight. However, allies also learn lessons from their mistakes. For example, almost all aircraft will display clear invasion stripes to avoid friendly fire during the Normandy invasions, while air operations will enjoy longer planning periods and greater use of scout units to guide paratroopers.
They also make tactical improvements, including stronger radios and clearer channels for calling in air support. Arguably, Husky's biggest result is also mostly unintentional. Mussolini's dismissal opens the question of Italy's role in the war. But while the Allied demand for unconditional surrender persists, Italy appears reluctant to surrender and the battle for Italy will continue. In fact, many of the units – from both sides – that had fought in Sicily will soon meet again on new battlefields. HeThe next step of the Allies is the invasion of the Italian peninsula, which begins on September 3, an event that causes the collapse of Mussolini's regime and a new Italian government that joins the Allies.
It is a political success for the allies, but militarily things quickly stagnate in a devastating positional war. American, British, and Canadian forces manage to gain a foothold, but the Germans quickly disarm the Italian army, take control of the country, and send troops to the landing zones. Allied problems in command and coordination, plus Italy's mountainous terrain and skillful German defense mean that, by the end of the year, larger Allied forces will confront the German position south of Rome known as the Gustav Line, with its strong point in Monte Casino. In fact, the truly decisive advance occurred at the same time as Operation Husky, but far to the east.
There, the Wehrmacht and the Red Army fight the largest battle of all time at Kursk, and although the Germans cause more losses than they suffer, the Red Army emerges victorious. In the spring of 1943, the leaders of Nazi Germany face a strategic dilemma: the Soviets halt their 1942 offensive at Stalingrad, Allied bombers bomb German cities, Axis forces in North Africa surrender to the British. and Americans, and the allied ships are winning the war against the Submarines. But Adolf Hitler and his generals know that they cannot defeat the Soviet Union while fighting a war on two multiple fronts, so he is cautious: “This year we cannot undertake any major operations.
We must avoid all risks. I think we can only make limited attacks.” (Töppel 21) Hitler believes that once the Anglo-Americans try and fail to open a second front in France, he will be able to deal a decisive blow to the USSR. The immediate priority for him is to drag the Red Army into a battle of attrition to weaken it so much that the Soviets cannot launch a major offensive of their own in 1943. This is especially important since in the spring of 1943, the Red Army outnumbers to the Wehrmacht in the east by 2.1 to 1 in men, 4.6 to 1 in tanks and 3.1 to 1 in guns.
And despite the catastrophic losses of men and equipment suffered by the Soviet Union in 1941 and 1942, Red Army commanders are planning radical offensives: they plan to crush the Germans around Oryol, which would open the way to Bryansk, Minsk, Poland and the East. Prussia, while a simultaneous offensive through Kharkiv would allow them to retake Poltava and kyiv and threaten the German rear in the north or their allies Hungary and Romania. If the Soviet plan works, the war could have ended in 1944. So the Germans have a conservative plan for the Eastern Front in the summer of 1943, while the Soviets have high hopes for breakthroughs.
And both are focused on the area around the city of Kursk. The Soviet General Staff, or Stavka, expects the Germans to attack the Red Army in the Kursk salient, so they deploy two army groups to the area: the Central Front under Konstantin Rokossovsky and the Voronezh Front under Nikolai Vatutin. reserve army group for a counterattack - the Steppe Military District under the command of Ivan Konev. Red Army engineers also turn the salient into a fortress, to bleed out German attackers. But some Soviet leaders are beginning to doubt the defensive plan given the long delays in the construction of fortifications.
Both Joseph Stalin and Vatutin maintain that the Red Army should attack the Germans first, to spoil the expected enemy attack. Finally, Marshals Vasilevsky and Zhukov convince Stalin to start on the defensive to weaken the German armored formations before moving on to counterattack, especially due to the new German heavy Tiger tanks. The Red Army had captured a Tiger in January 1943 and test results showed that its armor was extremely strong. The regular soldiers are also worried about the Tiger: “But the Germans have overtaken us again with their tanks. The worst thing is that our weapons and tanks are not up to the level of the Tiger.” (Popjel 157) Learning to fight Tigers is a key part of Soviet preparations: Red Army anti-tank crews learn to aim for vision ports or commanders' hatches, which tend to break after a hit.
The Soviets build six defensive belts to protect the salient and prevent a German advance. Together, the belts include 9,200 kilometers of trenches, sometimes four lines deep, along with 1 million mines. Most of the 300,000 civilian workers working in the fortifications are women. The first two belts are the strongest, to allow the destruction of German tanks, and it is here that the Soviets create anti-tank strongpoints. A typical strongpoint has an anti-tank rifle company, an engineer squad with explosives, 4-10 anti-tank guns, and 2-3 tanks or self-propelled guns. Soviet troops also hollow out their vehicles so that only the turrets are visible to the enemy.
But German planes detect Soviet strongpoints, so the Wehrmacht command gives instructions on how to attack them: “The numerous anti-tank strongpoints visible in aerial photographs should be attacked as follows: a) Stuka attack followed by grenadiers attacking with fire support from Tigres. b) strong points must be suppressed with artillery fire and Tiger shots. the infantry attack. a support attack with tanks.” (Stadler 27) Aside from fortifications, the backbone of Soviet defense is artillery, and they have a lot of it, up to 70 guns per kilometer of front in some sectors. Soviet partisans behind German lines also contribute to the defense, launching 1,100 attacks on German logistics and infrastructure in June alone, damaging 400 locomotives and 54 railway bridges.
The Soviets are also planning counteroffensives that they will launch if they can stop the German attacks. In Operation Kutuzov, the Western, Bryansk, and Central Fronts would attack the German-held Oryol salient and continue westward. Meanwhile, the Voronezh, Steppe, and Southwestern Fronts would attack Kharkiv in Operation Commander Rumiantsev. So the Red Army is preparing for a German attack around Kursk and a massive counteroffensive. And it is these preparations that help Hitler decide where to attack. Hitler originally wanted to attack the Donbass region to ensure control of its critical natural resources. It is his generals who convince the Führer to attack Kursk to paralyze the Soviet offensive potential.
And he is not the author of the attack plan, unlike what German generals would later say after the war. But the attack is delayed and Hitler and his generals debate what to do. In April, the commander of the 9th Army, General Walter Model, tells Hitler that he believes he can win at Kursk, but that his army is not yet strong enough, so Hitler decides to wait until reinforcements arrive. . Then, in May, Axis forces in North Africa surrender and Hitler fears that Italy will soon leave the alliance or that the Allies will land in Italy or Greece.
He decides to wait until the situation in the Mediterranean becomes clearer before committing himself in the East. But in the second half of May, heavy rains muddied the roads of the Soviet Union and made any attack impossible. In June everything is ready, but Hitler still hesitates. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and General Kurt Zeitzler have been telling him that the Red Army around Kursk is getting stronger and that the longer the Germans wait, the worse their chances will become. Hitler then decides that he will wait for the Soviets to attack first. Then, at the end of June, the commander of Army Group Center, Günther von Kluge, convinces Hitler that he must attack as soon as possible.
The offensive, Operation Citadel, will begin on July 5, 1943. The German plan is to surround the Soviets and crush them. Model's 9th Army must break through the strongest Soviet positions in just two days and complete the northern half of the encirclement. The southern pincer is formed by General Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kemp. Hoth's tanks will lead the assault until they meet the 9th Army and trap the Red Army's best forces in a pocket. Including their reserves, the Germans have around 900,000 men, 3,900 tanks and self-propelled guns, 1,800 aircraft and 8,300 artillery pieces and mortars (Töppel 80). However, these figures include the 2nd Army which would not participate in the attack.
But the German plan has a fatal flaw: they seriously underestimate Soviet strength. Including reserves, the Red Army has 2.6 million men, 8,900 tanks and self-propelled guns, 5,900 aircraft and 47,400 artillery pieces and mortars that it can launch into battle. They have also introduced new heavy weapons systems, such as the SU-122 and SU-152 self-propelled guns. So the Germans finally decided to attack Kursk, just what the Soviets were preparing for. But when the battle begins, the Red Army is in for a surprise. On the night of July 4-5, several German soldiers cross the lines to surrender and tell the Soviets that an attack is imminent.
Soviet planes and artillery go into action to trap the Germans in their jumping positions. General Rokossovsky later records his assessment: “the fire covered enemy troops preparing to attack, caused heavy losses, especially in artillery, and disrupted command systems. Our attack surprised the fascists and made them think we were about to attack. Their plans were interrupted and confusion spread among the soldiers. Two hours passed before the enemy artillery began, the preparatory fire was disorganized and weak.” (Rokossovsky 262) For decades, this is the image accepted by Soviet and Western historians, but it is not true. In reality, the Soviet artillery attacks too early and causes little damage, and German fighters shoot down 300 Soviet planes on the first day alone.
When the ground attack begins on July 5, the Germans break the first defensive belt in the north and south. The next day, they pierce the second belt, surprising Soviet commanders who had hoped their months of preparation would yield better results. The Central and Voronezh Fronts rush to gather their reserves, but a major counterattack in the north fails to drive the Germans back. Rokossovsky now orders that no Soviet tanks be sent against German armored vehicles, as he later writes: “Given the enemy's superiority, especially in heavy tanks, tanks should only counterattack against infantry or light vehicles; and even then only when our fire had already disorganized the enemy dispositions.
This order was necessary given the situation. There were cases when our tankers rushed to attack the Tigers, only to be driven back behind the infantry with heavy losses.” (Rokossovksy 266) In the south, the Soviet counterattack turns into a giant tank battle, as Soviet units attempt to encircle the German armored spearhead. As in the north, here too German tanks dominate the battlefield. On July 8 alone, they destroyed 343 Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns, compared to only 20 German ones. The Soviets have spent some of their reserves to no avail, and the Germans in the south continue to press. In the north, Model's 9th Army fights once it reaches the Soviet third defense belt.
Soviet mines, including anti-tank mines enhanced with artillery shells, destroy many German vehicles, and heavy artillery fire from the Red Army stops German infantry. The Germans note that the Red Army's tactics against their heavy tanks are also taking a toll: “Especially notable was that the commander's hatch was often punctured or severely damaged. The Russian regulations to confront the Tigers were prepared surprisingly quickly and the enemy doggedly followed them with all weapons. .” (Töppel 65) Field Marshal von Kluge blames the 9th Army's failure squarely on Soviet firepower, but hopes to continue the offensive after regrouping. Another problem is the coordination between German tanks and infantry, as in the case of the 33rd Panzergrenadier Regiment's assault on a hill: “The tanks should have, as discussed and agreed, immediately pushed to the top of the hill .
Our attack was met with heavy enemy fire, some of it flanking, but we made better progress than expected. At the top, however, there was extraordinarily hard hand-to-hand fighting. The Russians literally had to be removed from all the trenches. Unfortunately, the tanks remained at the foot of the hill and did not move. While the top of the hill was being cleared, the Russians counterattacked with their tanks. The latest of our companiesriflemen saw that our own tanks did not support us and could not resist the counterattack.” (Töppel, größte Schlacht, 145) In the south, the 4th Panzer Army is more successful and penetrates the Soviet third defensive belt on 11 July.
Manstein admits on July 13 that his forces are too weak to encircle the Soviets alone, but he also wants the offensive to continue. Hitler wants to avoid further arguments with the stubborn general, so he tells Manstein that the general's Army Group South would have to give up some of his forces to help counter the Allied landings in Sicily. But this is just an excuse and Hitler will not send units from the Eastern Front to Sicily for the next ten days. But Hitler's ruse works and Manstein reluctantly accepts that Citadel has failed. Still, Hitler's lie that he needed to send reinforcements to Sicily becomes one of the most persistent myths about the Battle of Kursk, and still has many defenders today.
The German offensive has failed thanks to lack of forces and stiff Soviet resistance... and because the Soviet counteroffensive has begun. On July 12, the Red Army launches Operation Kutuzov. The Soviets breach the German positions off Oryol, forcing the German 9th Army to send reinforcements to help plug the gaps, sealing Citadel's fate beyond a doubt. Red Army soldier Evgeny Bessonov later describes how the Luftwaffe attempts to slow the Soviet advance: “That was my first experience with such an intense air attack. It was pure hell; It's hard to find a comparison for it. You are just lying in your trench and waiting for death, bombs are exploding everywhere, the ground is shaking and you are shaking. “I was scared to death and wanted to escape from that hell, but I was a platoon commander and I had to stay with my soldiers.” (Bessonov 39) Further south, the Red Army attacks the vulnerable spearhead of the 4th Panzer Army.
The 5th Guards Tank Army, supported by the 5th Guards Army, will lead the charge after having been in reserve until now. The Soviet tank army will destroy German armored vehicles near the village of Prokhorovka, break through the German line and advance 30 kilometers. The Soviets use fake radio transmissions and troop movements to confuse the Germans into believing that there are two more Soviet armies to the west of the German spearheads, but this is just a ruse. The attack is so critical for the Soviets that Stalin sends Marshal Vasilevsky himself to Prokhorovka. But when Vasilevsky realizes that the Germans have advanced much further than expected, he panics and orders a hasty start of the operation on the morning of July 12.
But the Red Army is not ready yet, and when the 5th Guards Tank Army breaks into the II SS Panzerkorps, confusion reigns. German intelligence fails to anticipate the Soviet attack, so SS soldiers like Erhard Gührs are completely surprised: “We were all sleeping, then they were on top of us, with planes, endless tanks with infantry on top. It was hell. They were around us, above us and in between us. We fight, man against man. We jumped out of our trenches, got into our vehicles and confronted everyone who arrived. It was hell! (Guehrs) Despite the shock, the Germans recover and inflict a heavy defeat on the attacking 5th Guards Tank Army.
The SS units not only hold their positions, but also destroy 382 Soviet tanks and assault guns, of which 227 are destroyed. The Soviets are only able to destroy a dozen German tanks, and only 4 of them are not recoverable. These figures contrast sharply with later Soviet descriptions of the battle as a success for the Red Army. For the Germans, Prokhorovka is limited to a local tactical defensive success. The Soviets still have the advantage, but have to delay their main counteroffensive for three weeks due to the heavy losses they have suffered so far. On August 3 they will finally be ready to launch the final phase of the battle, Operation Commander Rumiantsev. 7 Soviet armies, 2 of them tank armies, assault German lines in the southern part of the Kursk salient.
In the coming days they will be joined by three more Soviet armies: a total of 1 million men, 2,440 tanks and self-propelled guns. Trying to stop them are the 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf, both of which have been weakened by sending units to other parts of the front. They only have 210,000 men and 640 tanks and assault guns, of which only 270 are combat ready. The Red Army immediately crushes the German line north of Kharkiv and advances southwest. The German units have to avoid being surrounded, so they retreat hastily. On August 5, Soviet forces liberate Belgorod and Oryol; For the first time since the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht in a major summer battle.
In Moscow, Red Army cannons fire a massive 124-gun salute at midnight to commemorate the double liberation. On the 7th, elements of General Katukov's 1st Tank Army arrive at Bogodukhov, just 50 kilometers from Kharkiv and almost behind the German forces fighting there. The German command attacks the Panzer divisions from other parts of the front and manages to stop the spearhead of the Soviet tanks. In the days that follow, both sides send more and more reinforcements into the fight, which turns into another major tank battle. The desperate Germans even weaken their forces defending Kharkov – which Hitler wants to keep at all costs – to stop this dangerous Soviet advance.
The Soviets are trying to advance further southwest toward Poltava, the most important communications and logistics center of Germany's Army Group South. On August 11, the Red Army launches another attack, this time with the new 1st Guards Army of the Southwestern Front. The objective is to surround Kharkiv from the south. Army detachment Kempf is now surrounded on three sides and the defense of Kharkiv is becoming untenable. The Germans can stop the Voronezh Front west of Kharkiv, but the Steppe and Southwestern Fronts are getting closer to the city. On the 18th, Hitler has to admit that the situation in Kharkiv is desperate for the Wehrmacht, and prolonging the defense of the city risks another Stalingrad-style disaster.
He allows Manstein to leave town if necessary. The same day, the Germans complete their withdrawal from the Oryol sector, ending Operation Kutuzov. The Soviet pincers tightened around Kharkiv, and on the night of August 22-23, the Wehrmacht abandoned the city to the Red Army. The Kursk battle, which lasted for 50 days, is over. The Battle of Kursk is the largest battle of World War II and one of the bloodiest in history. Historians still argue today about Soviet losses and exact figures will probably never be known. In all likelihood, at least 1.2 million Red Army soldiers are killed or wounded, 7,000 tanks and assault guns destroyed, and 3,000 aircraft lost.
The Germans lose around 203,000 dead, wounded and missing, 1,200 tanks and self-propelled guns and 650 aircraft. (Töppel 154) Although Soviet losses are much greater and the Red Army fails to achieve its operational objectives, Kursk is a serious defeat for the Germans. They hesitated before deciding to attack and take advantage of the initial successes, they underestimated the enemy, they had inaccurate information, and all this without any margin for error given their logistical and numerical disadvantages. They also fail to achieve any of the objectives they had when they attacked in July: they fail to destroy Soviet forces in the Kursk salient; they do not weaken the Red Army enough to prevent its offensive; they do not shorten the front to free up reserves; and they do not capture hundreds of thousands of Soviet prisoners who they wanted to send to work as forced laborers in Germany.
Hitler had hoped that a victory at Kursk would convince the world that the Wehrmacht was invincible. But the result was the opposite: for the first time the Red Army stopped a German summer offensive in a few days and, despite enormous losses, went on the offensive along the entire Eastern Front. By the end of the summer of 1943, German combat power in the east was exhausted and they could no longer make up for their losses. The defeat at Kursk also has repercussions at home: in the spring of 1943 most Germans still believed that a military victory over the USSR was possible, but after Kursk morale begins to fall.
And the victory at Kursk was the beginning of further Axis setbacks in the east. From August to December, the Red Army drives the Germans from Kharkiv to the Dnieper River. Soviet forces retake kyiv in November, but German forces fight hard and manage to hold some bridgeheads on the eastern bank. At German headquarters, these small successes and the stabilization of the line in December are optimistically interpreted as a sign that they might have weathered the storm. Meanwhile, another storm is brewing in the skies over the Reich, as the British and American air forces launch their bombing campaign to hit German industry and civilian morale.
At the Casablanca conference in January 1943, Allied commanders called for a combined bomber offensive against Germany. The goal is to attack key industries and military targets in preparation for an invasion in 1944. The Allied command still prioritizes submarine facilities at first, but in June 1943 the POINTBLANK directive shifts focus to German aircraft and ball bearing production. . US Army Air Force Chief Henry Arnold strongly supports strategic bombing and has expanded US air power since 1940. He especially believes that daytime bombing raids targeting specific key industries, such as oil or bearings, can paralyze German war production. The head of British bomber command, Arthur Harris, who is skeptical of such “bottleneck” bombing, wants the United States to join the RAF in night bombing of areas, but Arnold maintains independence.
The RAF and USAAF campaigns will complement each other, but are largely separate. From the American side, the Eighth Bomber Command would carry out most of the new mission during the summer and fall of 1943, flying from RAF air bases in East Anglia. By late summer, the United States had nearly 400 B-17 heavy bombers in 21 bombing groups ready for operations in the skies over occupied Europe. The Eighth carried out small-scale raids, especially in occupied France, in 1942, but a lack of bombers limited operations against Germany. However, in 1943, new aircraft, personnel and equipment arrived, allowing operations to be intensified. In the summer of 1943, the Eighth launched a series of raids that coincided with the RAF's bombing of Hamburg.
Beginning on July 24, 1943, American bombers attacked targets in Norway and Germany for six days in a mini-campaign known as Blitz Week, with mixed results. A firestorm in Hamburg damages some submarine production facilities and kills and wounds thousands of civilians, while the bombing of Norway delays nitrate production by a few months. But bomber losses are mounting and available fighter escorts are inadequate. Overall, the USAAF loses around 100 B-17s during Blitz Week, with 90 casualties. Still, American replacements are arriving and commanders are planning even more ambitious new raids. Operation Double Strike targets the Regensburg aircraft factories and the Schweinfurt ball bearing plant in a coordinated raid, the deepest yet into Germany.
Colonel Curtis LeMay's 4th Bombardment Wing will attack the Messerschmidt factory in Regensburg before flying ashore in North Africa. Planners hope these so-called “Shuttle Raids” will confuse enemy air controllers and the defending fighters who are in poor condition. The 4th Wing's unexpected flight to Algeria is expected to divert Luftwaffe forces from the 1st Bombardment Wing's round-trip flight to Schweinfurt. This is even more vital as both raids will lack fighter escort for much of their route. Fuel limitations mean that many escorts will return close to the Dutch border, while additional long-range fuel tanks are in short supply. However, the August 17 raid quickly goes awry.
Bad weather delays the departure of the Schweinfurt force, meaning it will take off four hours later than the Regensburg force, instead of the planned 10 minutes. When the 146 bombers from Regensburg enter the Luftwaffe's operational zones, the German fighters rush in and attack along a 260-kilometer-long aerial battlefield: “We attack them from the front and slightly above.The huge planes were quickly distinguished as individual targets: we aimed at the appropriate fuselage and engines. We shot and then destroyed the entire group at lightning speed: a fantastic moment. Some of the monsters had caught fire. “I dodged their huge shark-like tails with their big black code letters.” (Caldwell) Over Regensburg, the combatants withdraw and the bombardment is generally effective.
One of its biggest hits is unintentional, as it destroys the secret fuselages of the experimental Me 262 fighter planes. The detour to the south also works and confuses the Germans. However, it is of little use to the delayed Schweinfurt force flying along a similar route to the Regensburg bombers. The German fighters have time to land, rearm, refuel and attack the second penetration with greater force than the first. After a grueling air battle, the bombers reach their target, but the bombing is less precise. Combined raids are costly for the Eighth. 60 B-17s are shot down and 11 scrapped upon their return, with 600 casualties (about 16 percent of the force).
Certain groups, such as the 100th and 95th Bomb Groups, lose almost 50 percent. American bomber crews claim to have shot down 288 enemy aircraft, but the real number is closer to 47, with only 16 German pilots killed. Of this number, the majority were shot down by escort fighters. Commanders sometimes viewed wildly exaggerated claims about downed enemy fighters with skepticism, but accepted them for the sake of morale. This was statistically significant; Bomber crews face some of the worst odds of any fighter. The B-17 Flying Fortress is designed to be rugged and well defended by a 10-man crew in mutually supporting defensive air formations.
But while Luftwaffe pilots attack from all directions, American aircrews are especially concerned about an attack against the aircraft's weakest front. Machine guns are later added to the plexiglass tip, but the B-17 gunners lack training and, despite Allied claims, German losses from the B-17 guns are low. An Eighth Air Force commander was critical: “I really felt that the gunners, in some cases, were more of a danger than protection. I don't think we'll ever know how many planes we shot down ourselves with this savage .50 caliber machine gun barrage…” (Ross 150) American planners are trying to improve the B-17, such as the G model with a remotely controlled chin turret, But enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire are just two of the many dangers.
Accidents are a problem, compounded by lack of maintenance time, as are friendly fire, formation flying collisions, freezing and bad weather. Many pilots lack experience taking off and landing in fog, especially with overloaded aircraft: “An overloaded B-17 that stalled at a thousand feet met its spectacular end in seconds... Three tons of bombs, two thousand seven hundred gallons of high power. The octane fuel, some six thousand fifty caliber rounds along with tanks of oxygen, hydraulic oil and lubricant, all impacting the ground at over two hundred miles per hour, left nothing but a smoking black spot. (Ross 146/147) It is possible for an entire crew to escape, but it is dangerous.
The crew has to grab their parachutes in time, fight the forces of a falling plane and avoid other planes or debris in the sky. Pilots usually stay on board to keep the plane level. The men also fear being shot at while parachuting, and German civilians occasionally attack the crews of downed bombers. Fueled by Nazi propaganda about the Anglo-American Luftgangsters, conservative estimates suggest that lynch mobs killed around 350 downed airmen, especially starting in 1944, although the true figure may be higher. However, German troops generally take prisoners. Sergeant Ray Manley remembers his reception after leaving the rescue: “Four German soldiers approached me and asked if I was armed.
I said, "No," and then one of them responded in perfect English, "For you, the war is over!" I was then escorted to a nearby town where a crowd of people had gathered... A little blonde girl, about five or six years old, stood up and looked at me. She smiled at me, the only friendly face there…” (Hawkins Munster 131) Successive missions with high casualties also result in psychological crises. The USAAF reassigns those affected to non-combat roles, but aircrew see the psychological wounds accompanied by a social stigma. The men also know that bombing kills more German civilians than soldiers, adding additional stress to airmen like Colonel LeMay: “You drop a load of bombs and, if you're cursed with any imagination, you have at least one.” quick, horrible vision of a boy lying in bed with a whole ton of masonry falling on top of him; or a three year old girl crying for Mutter...
Mutter... Then you have to get away from the image if you want to keep your sanity. (Hansen 167) For the crews of the Eighth Bomber Command, the statistics are grim. A 1943 study finds that only 26% complete their 25 missions. 57% are killed, missing or captured and 17% are injured, die in accidents or are discharged for mental problems. But the numbers show an incomplete picture. Casualty rates among bombers vary greatly between different parts of the formation. Some may emerge unscathed, while others may be nearly wiped out. The 100th Bomb Group gains a gruesome reputation for its heavy losses, earning it the nickname "Bloody Hundreds." At Regensburg, the 100th loses nine of 21 attacking bombers, the most of any group.
The crew of the 100th bomber begin to suspect that Luftwaffe fighters are deliberately attacking them, perhaps as revenge. A story is spread among American crew members that on a previous raid a damaged B-17 of the 100th dropped its landing gear to signal surrender to a German fighter. As the fighter approached to escort it to the ground, the B-17 gunners opened fire and shot down the fighter. However, the story is probably false. The reality is probably more mundane. At Regensburg, many of Group 100's bombers flew in the wing's most vulnerable positions: the high and low squadrons of the formation's low fighter box.
These exposed positions lack supporting fire from the headquarters and were often attacked first, earning the nickname "Purple Heart" or "Coffin Corner." But the rumor persists and in October, a new raid seems to confirm the “curse” of Bloody Hundredth. On October 10, 1943, American planners targeted the city of Münster. 274 B-17s will attack the city center in the first explicit US raid to bomb civilian homes. The goal is to kill or render homeless workers in Münster's factories and transportation facilities, reducing both manpower and morale. The starting point is Münster Cathedral on a Sunday afternoon. The 100th is exhausted after another week of heavy bombing, but the Americans hope that the attack on Münster will be relatively easy due to its proximity to the Dutch border and its fighter escort.
However, everything soon turns into a disaster. Fog prevents some escorts from joining the bombers and up to 350 Luftwaffe fighters rush to intercept the attack, especially the 100th Bombardment Group at “Coffin Corner”. Captain Frank Murphy, aboard the 100th B-17 Group, nicknamed 'Aw-R-Go', recalls: “The German planes came after the 100th in seemingly endless waves. As one element of fighters separated, another turned for a frontal attack far ahead of us... One fighter after another flew directly toward our formation, passing so close that we could clearly see the German pilots in their cockpits... More "More than once I moved away from the attacking fighters expecting a head-on collision." (Hawkins Munster 113) Within moments, German Me 109s and Fw 190s shoot down three of the lead 100th Squadron.
The damaged bombers, breaking out of formation, found themselves especially vulnerable to heavy twin-engine German aircraft, such as the Me 110, 410 and Ju-88. The bombers' gunners tried to repel the attacks, but the weapons jammed, the crew members were injured, and their ammunition ran out. The waist guns and turrets of B-17s are often the most dangerous position for man. Inside the affected B-17s, chaotic scenes unfold: “...I heard loud screams behind me. I turned and saw Sergeant Auger crouching next to the Navigator with blood running down his face. The Navigator, obviously in a state of complete shock, shouted at him: 'Go back to your weapons or I'll kill you!' He began searching for his gun among his equipment." (Hawkins Munster 147) United States loses 30 B-17s.
Of the 13 bombers of the 100 group in the attack, 12 are shot down, with 32 killed and 88 captured. The only surviving bomber, the Royal Flush, limps home with two engines, a non-functioning oxygen system, and an injured crew. Its pilot, Robert Rosenthal, will complete 52 missions, double the standard tour. Despite the losses, the lead bombers attacked Münster, killing 700 civilians. For bombers, the lesson of October's so-called “Black Week” is the need for better long-range fighter escort. New fighters like the P-51 Mustang and improved fuel tanks are arriving, but Allied plans to cripple the German war industry mean that bomber missions often exceed the fighter escort range.
Four days after Münster, Bombardment Group 100 joins another ambitious mission deep into Germany. The objective is once again Schweinfurt. Bomber Command believes that an attack on the ball bearing plant could delay German fighter production for months. It will be the largest American raid so far: 383 B-17s in two forces will penetrate Germany without fighter escort. Around 1,100 Luftwaffe fighters are based within a 100 kilometer radius of its route. American veterans of the first raid on Schweinfurt two months earlier are worried: “When the reporting officer said, “Gentlemen, your objective for today is Schweinfurt,” everyone complained. The ball bearing plants would be heavily defended. “We knew our third mission would be a big fight.” (Bowman 16) Once again, the raid starts off badly.
Delays and weather confuse the fighter escort rendezvous. When escorting P-47s near the German border, some only have 15 minutes of combat fuel. Mechanical problems mean that only 291 bombers continue towards the target. As the Allied fighter escort circles Aachen, the Luftwaffe attacks with everything it has, including a new weapon: “...the tail gunner shouted that an Me 110 behind us out of range was shooting something at us.” and he was walking away. a stream of black smoke. At the time we didn't know what it was, but later we discovered that it was a rocket... The missile exploded right under our plane.
It seemed like we were in an elevator; “he picked us up and caused all kinds of damage.” (Bowman 57) American bombers are organized in mutually supportive masses of up to 100 troops, but Luftwaffe planes launch coordinated attacks. While twin-engine Zerstörer aircraft, such as the Me 110, fire rockets at B-17 formations to cause disruption, single-engine fighters accelerate forward to open up with a grouped attack head. Once out of formation or damaged, isolated bombers can be eliminated from all directions. As the Americans approach Schweinfurt, anti-aircraft guns, some of them manned by teenagers, take over the defense: “Our fire control team recorded the formation immediately… Every three seconds the alarm bell rings.
This means: "full shots from all guns!"... The enemy planes were densely surrounded by the bursts of anti-aircraft shells... Large dark clouds, in some places blood red, clouds of smoke hung over the air and dust. the city. Often, it was only afterwards that fear overcame us. We, the 16-year-olds, each had to overcome it in our own way.” (Bowman 44) 228 B-17s arrive at Schweinfurt to bomb it, with generally good accuracy. The Luftwaffe pursues them on the return flight. Only when the bombers reach the safety of escorting fighters near the English Channel do the Germans, equally exhausted, withdraw. Some Luftwaffe pilots flew three individual sorties during the attack.
American losses are 60 B-17s shot down and 121 damaged, 17 beyond repair. 600 men are dead or missing. Ernst Reichert, 13, finds a crashed bomber: “WithOther children ran directly to the site of a suspected emergency landing. To the left, in the burned cockpit, was the pilot completely charred and shrunken. His hands were still gripping the steering wheel tightly. The Flying Fortress had already burned down and was still smoking. Behind the pilot there was another crew member, also charred, leaning to one side.” (Historischer Verein Markt Werneck) The bombers claim to have shot down 186 Germans, but the real number is about 40. Allied commanders claim that the attack destroys three ball bearing factories and closes all factories.
Privately, Eighth Bomber Command is concerned about high losses. The second raid on Schweinfurt ends the USAAF's deep, unescorted penetrations, while bad weather halts major bombing raids until February 1944. As commanders evaluate the year's progress, they are still unsure how much damage they have caused. . Assessing the damage is difficult due to inaccuracies in bomber studies and debates over the German war economy. Postwar studies of the RAF and USAAF tend to exaggerate both the economic and psychological impact. In the case of the USAAF, this was in part to encourage its reform as a separate and independent military branch. But even some analysts at the time accepted that the results were disappointing.
First, Allied intelligence worked under the assumption that Germany was fully mobilized from the start of the war, which limited the growth of German war production. However, Germany consistently found surplus industrial capacity, although historians debate whether this was due to a lack of early war mobilization or correcting economic inefficiencies. In any case, overall weapons production continued to increase until reaching its peak in 1944. Fighter and ball bearing production was also not greatly disturbed by the bombing raids of 1943. Until the last months of the war, the Germans built more planes and fighters and offset the production of weapons. -Damage in the production of bearings with porcelain substitutes, rigid controls, imports from Sweden and unused stocks.
Some historians, such as Alan Levine, suggest that the bombing may have reduced German arms growth by as little as 5%. Others argue that the Combined Bomber Offensive of 1943 should be seen as a German defensive victory. Although no bomber force was completely destroyed or forced to retreat, Allied bombers failed to cripple German war production. Armaments Minister Albert Speer later stated that subsequent raids on bombed facilities could have caused significant damage, but such raids often arrived too late, at which point equipment was rescued and buildings repaired. But this potential German defensive victory is highly conditional. The 1943 campaign wore down the Luftwaffe.
In all theaters, the Luftwaffe was losing 30 to 40% of its total strength each month. For a time, new production replaced lost aircraft, but the Luftwaffe lacked experienced pilots. New pilots received less training and advanced skills such as instrument flying and night flying became rare. Although there were advances such as fighter aircraft, the Luftwaffe also adopted more desperate measures, such as mobilizing its own bombers in the fight against Allied bombing raids. The Luftwaffe converted surplus bombers like the Dornier Do 17 into heavy fighters and even theorized concepts of air-to-air bombing: dropping time-fuzed bombs on enemy formations. A large amount of resources and manpower were also being locked into German air defense.
By the end of 1943, 9,000 88 mm guns, 25,000 other anti-aircraft weapons and half of the electronics industry were diverted to air defense. This means fewer weapons on the front line and more equipment in passive roles. An average of 16,000 shells were fired for each bomber shot down. The bombing raids of 1943 also prepared the German war industry for future failures. German authorities brought more forced laborers into war production, which affected production and quality. Meanwhile, factories dispersed or moved underground were less efficient. Dispersal may have reduced fighter production by 25% compared to concentrated factories. These isolated factories were also more vulnerable to transport bombing, which became a major Allied target in 1944.
The Luftwaffe's successes in 1943 may also have more to do with Allied limitations than with German strategy. Arguably, weather, inexperience, and lack of fighter escorts played a larger role. By late 1943, the Allies were working on solutions to these problems, such as better radar and radio equipment, longer-range fighters, and better training. As soon as the weather improves in February 1944, the bomber offensive continues on an even larger scale. The bombing campaign of 1943 kills tens of thousands of German civilians and turns the heart of the Reich into a major front. Meanwhile, far from the front lines and momentous battles, the Nazi regime's plan to murder Europe's Jews, Roma, and other groups in the Holocaust continues.
Berlin also targets remaining German Jews, including arresting thousands of people who were married to German Christian women. This leads to a rare example of open German opposition to government policy in February 1943. Hundreds of wives and relatives gather on Berlin's Rosenstrasse to demand the release of their loved ones held by the Gestapo. The police release some, but send others to death in concentration camps. However, this protest is a small exception amid the ongoing genocide. Aktion Reinhard is the name the Germans give to their operation to kill the more than 2 million Jews living in ghettos in Eastern Europe.
In 1942, the SS experimented with methods for mass murder and settled on gas chambers, which they built in three main extermination centers or extermination camps: Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka. The plan is to deport most of the Jews from the largest ghettos: Warsaw, Łódź, Bialystok, Vilnius, Minsk, Riga and Kaunas, along with thousands of Roma. Once the deportees arrive, the German guards trick them into thinking they are being sent to showers, but instead they gas them. Jewish worker Shimon Goldberg describes the gassing of the Roma in Treblinka: “While I was there, about 2,000 gypsies were killed. The gypsies went crazy, screamed terribly and wanted to knock down the cameras.
They climbed the walls to the openings above and even tried to break the barred window. “The Germans went up to the roof, shot inside, closed the openings and suffocated everyone.” (Arald, p. 152-153; Crowe p. 246) Thus, by September 1943 the Germans had killed 250,000 Jews in Sobibor, 600,000 in Belzec and 874,000 (and several thousand Roma) in Treblinka. Most of the Polish, Baltic and Belarusian Jewish population is already dead. But the massacre of 1943 does not end with Operation Reinhard. In November, the Germans kill more than 40,000 people in the fields of Majdanek, Trawniki and Poniatowa in what they call Operation Harvest Festival. And in other parts of Europe, German and collaborationist authorities continue to deport and murder other Jewish communities.
Beginning in February, SS officials deport nearly all of Thessaloniki's historic Jewish community, 50,000 strong, to Auschwitz, where camp authorities immediately gas two-thirds of them. In Macedonia and Thrace, controlled by Bulgaria, the Bulgarian authorities deport 11,000 Jews who are then killed by the Germans. Sofia then retracts her agreement with Germany and refuses to deport the Jewish population living within Bulgaria's pre-war borders. After Italy's surrender in September, German troops occupy the country and the Nazi government attempts to kill Italian Jews, whom Mussolini's regime until now refused to deport. In October, the SS and Italian police begin rounding up Italy's Jewish population for transportation and murder to Auschwitz.
In the end, they kill about 15% of Italian Jews. In occupied Denmark, Germany declares martial law after a series of attacks and plans to deport and kill the country's 7,500 Jews. The Danish government contacts the Swedes, who agree to accept the Jewish refugees who escape by boat, and most of them do so. Most of the Jewish victims of Aktion Reinhard and the other mass murders had no chance to defend themselves, but in 1943, thousands of Jews rebelled against the Nazis. In August, at the Treblinka extermination center, Jewish prisoners fight SS guards and 200 escape, most of whom the Germans capture and kill.
In October at Sobibor, Jewish prisoners of war from the Red Army led an uprising that killed 13 SS men and other guards, including the center's deputy commander. 300 prisoners escape, of which 50 survive the war in hiding. Two of them are Chaim Engel and Selma Wijnberg, who later marry. Selma, who suffered from typhus, later recalled the terrifying escape from the camp when guards machine-gunned the crowd: "Jaim took my hand and said, 'Come, it's no use staying there.' And then everyone started running towards this door, everyone fell next to us. You hear mines exploding and people falling dead. You just run.
I remember he had a necklace full of Jewish emblems. So that was the first thing I took off and threw [off the field]. Of course, I was very nervous when you had to run, I got diarrhea and had to stop all the time. We heard gunshots behind us and we heard screams and we were running and running” (Interview) The biggest uprising of all takes place in the Warsaw Ghetto in April and May. Once Operation Reinhard begins and the Nazi plan becomes clear to its intended victims, the Jewish underground resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto prepared to resist.
They form defense organizations and receive weapons from the Polish National Army, which resisted Nazi rule throughout Poland. Many residents of the ghetto are former soldiers of the Polish army, and when the Germans begin deportations in January 1943, these Jews fight back for several days. The Germans deport fewer Jews than planned, but begin a second wave of deportations on April 19, when the main uprising begins. For 23 days, some 750 armed Jews hold off some 2,000 German soldiers. They know they can't win and that most will die, but resistance commanders like Mordecai Anielewicz are determined to fight: “Something has happened beyond our wildest dreams.
Germans have fled the ghetto twice. I cannot describe the conditions in which Jews live. Very few will resist. Sooner or later the rest will perish. The die is cast. In all the bunkers where our comrades hide, it is impossible to light a candle at night due to lack of air. The main thing is that my life's dream has come true. “I have lived to see a Jewish defense force in the ghetto in all its grandeur and glory.” (State of Israel 1:91; Crowe 268) The Germans reestablish control over the ghetto, claiming to have killed some 7,000 Jews and deported more than 40,000 in the process, the vast majority of whom they kill shortly after along with the survivors of the war. ghetto.
And so, in the so-called forgotten year of 1943, the Allies drive the Germans out of North Africa, Sicily, part of Italy, the Atlantic and crush the Wehrmacht back from the Volga in Russia to the Dnieper in Ukraine. But even though the Germans are losing, they are making the Allies pay a heavy price and hold on to their gains: the Allied campaign in Italy is stalled, the bombing campaign suffers heavy losses of men and aircraft, and the Red Army loses hundreds of thousands of soldiers. men without achieving their ambitious strategic objectives. The Germans are losing the war and the odds are against them, but for now they have stabilized the lines in the east and in Italy.
As historian Robert Citino writes: “...the math couldn't have been worse. But was it possible that there were some in the German army - not just Hitler, but men among the staff and field commanders - who would look around at the end of this horrible year, take a deep breath, and begin to hope that with With a few adjustments here and there, a little more willpower, and maybe a little luck, could they really survive their ordeal? (Citino 278) These thoughts depart from the rational approach to war that the German officer corps had long prided itself on. Germany has no options to hold on to her supposed 1,000-year-old Reich, and yet she still underestimates the willpower of her most powerful enemies.
The Allies have definitely taken the lead, and 1944 will make that abundantly clear. Since you are watching this

documentary

overtwo hours about the pivotal year of 1943, I assume you'll be interested in learning more about World War II and other overlooked campaigns that often don't get the time they deserve in history documentaries. Well, we made two other epic documentaries about World War II: the first is 16 Days in Berlin; the most detailed

documentary

ever produced on the Battle of Berlin. A daily 4 and a half hour breakdown of one of the largest battles of the entire war as the Red Army advanced from the Oder River into the heart of the capital of Nazi Germany.
Filmed on location, it features detailed maps and animations, expert interviews and much more. The second documentary is Rhineland 45 about the last battle on the Western Front in which the Allies under the command of Bernhard Montgomery attacked from the Dutch border and eventually crossed the mighty Rhine River. This 3 ½ hour documentary was also filmed on location original, features detailed maps and animations, interviews with experts and veterans, and more. But you can't watch 16 Days in Berlin and Rhineland 45 on YouTube due to our uncompromising depiction of the war using authentic combat footage. So where can you watch these two massive documentaries with a combined running time of over 8 hours?
At Nebula, a streaming service we are building together with other creators; where we don't have to worry about YouTube advertising guidelines and the powerful algorithm. If you register at nebula.tv/realtimehistory you will be able to see all our content in 4K, without advertising and before YouTube. And not only in your browser, Nebula is also available on your Smartphone and devices such as Apple TV or Roku. And all this for only 30 dollars a year. And not only can you watch our documentaries on Nebula, there are many other creators who also produced original content that they couldn't upload to YouTube.
If you want even more World War II content, check out Real Engineering's Battle of Britain series or if you need a break from military history, check out Wendover's Jet Lag, a fun game show where contestants race around the world. Again, that's nebula.tv/realtimehistory for just $30 a year and directly supports our channel and future history content. As usual, you can find all the sources for this video in the video description below. If you're watching this video on Nebula or Patreon, thank you so much for the support. I'm Jesse Alexander and this is a production of Real Time History, the only history channel that won't forget 1943.

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